Bert Jansch - Moonshine - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Bert Jansch - Moonshine

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2015-12-04

Released in 1973, Moonshine is one of Bert Jansch’s most finely crafted albums. In a 1975 interview Jansch remarked, “I don’t think anyone knows it exists.” Which may explain its reissue. Like the country-tinged LA Turnaround, the dark nocturne of Moonlight is an oft and too long forgotten highlight of Bert Jansch’s long career.  

Without a doubt, Moonshine dropped at a time when the last leaves of autumnal English folk had long fallen from favor. Bedsits and patchouli had given way to Spiders from Mars and Electric Warriors. The great ships of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention had sailed after Donovan in his doomed quest for lost long Atlantis. Now T. Rex and Bowie were all the rage.

Irony is, Moonshine boasts smoldering arrangements by the artful Tony Visconti, who produced the landmark albums of both Glam icons. 

Undeniably, this is Jansch’s most Renaissance Faire sounding record. Fiddles and recorders abound. But there’s nothing twee about it. Moonshine is uncompromisingly mournful, lonesome and stark. Which also may account for its lack of appeal. Yarrow could not have been anymore dark and medieval. The gorgeously dour, Brought the Rain and ruminative January Man do nothing to dispel this vibe, which can only be described as claustrophobically anachronistic. The Jansch penned, Night Time Blues is the feather in this album’s cap. Breaking the English Folk mood with churning fiddles and sheer paranoia. “It must have been somebody crying that woke me from my slumbering, Who Lord can it be?” Jansch pleads. A stirring, hair raising track, which lyrically spirals into the surreal with Cheshire cats in boats and masked strangers in the woods.  One of the best songs Jansch ever wrote and cut. Same goes for the positively haunting title track. An Arthurian tale of Sir Percival’s imprisonment, which also deftly alludes to enslavement to the bottle.


Tony Visconti’s then wife, Mary Hopkin, joins Jansch on a version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. A version that is unlike any you’ve heard before. A far cry from Roberta Flack. It is virtually unrecognizable. And all Jansch’s own. Hopkin’s harmony waltzing eloquently with Jansch’s gruff baritone. An added bonus is Dannie Richmond on drums, who is more famous for backing jazz legend Charlie Mingus. Another bright ray on Moonshine.


Rambleaway and Twa Corbies are a pair of Autumnal traditionals, which once again hark back to good auld days of Geoffrey Chaucer. Saving his darkest for last, another Jansch original closes Moonshine. Oh My Father is a grumpy, scathing condemnation of the hypocrisy of religion. Specifically, the Christian Church. “Or is it the ruby wine you need and a woman young and fair?” he asks amid jarring, doomy, flashes of electric guitar. “Have you sold out to the devil’s greed?” It’s a bitter, uncompromising and startlingly abrupt end to one of Jansch’s bleakest and best. A dark night of the soul to be sure. Moonshine is the kind of album you listen to alone. On a stormy, windswept night lost somewhere between autumn and winter. Your only companion, a glass of ruby red. As you can no doubt tell, I’m a seasoned Bert fan and for me, Moonshine is a masterpiece. My favorite kind of Christmas album, stubbornly bleak and positively medieval. 

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